Job Sikhala has been in prison for more than 100 days.
The deputy chair of Zimbabwe’s official opposition, the Citizens Coalition for Change, has been charged with inciting his supporters to commit violence. For most of his time behind bars, Sikhala has been in solitary confinement at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Harare.
Sikhala denies the charges, which have been described by human rights lawyers as politically motivated.
The 50-year-old lawyer and politician has limited contact with the outside world, and communications are strictly monitored, but he was able to respond in writing to questions.
“I live in a single cell, which means I’m always alone, but even this strategy has not broken me,” he said.
He is a big man, and the cell is tiny. He sleeps on the floor with blankets, and the small windows mean there is little fresh air.
Nonetheless, he remains defiant.
“I will rather die standing for what I believe is right than be compromised. I’m a leader and have a responsibility to stand, act and speak for those that cannot.”
Sikhala grew up in Masvingo Province and became an activist while studying history at the University of Zimbabwe. He was a founding member in 1999 of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, and then an opposition MP for St Mary’s constituency in Chitungwiza.
His politics have always put him at odds with the government. His current troubles began in June, after the murder of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali in Chitungwiza. Ali was allegedly killed by Pius Jamba, a well-known member of the ruling Zanu-PF, in an argument over money. Jamba is in jail and facing criminal charges.
Anti-government protests erupted during a memorial service for Ali. These turned violent when Zanu-PF supporters arrived. Police arrested 16 opposition supporters, including Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, another opposition MP. No ruling party supporters were arrested.
Earlier this month, Sikhala was denied bail for a sixth time.
“No matter how strong the legal arguments are, they are not prepared to release him because of [political interference],” said his advocate, Freddy Masarirevu. “Sikhala is seen as a threat to the regime and its interests and this case of Moreblessing Ali was a chance for them to silence him once and for all.”
Sikhala echoes this analysis, saying: “Our judiciary has been used to fight political battles” and that there is “clear evidence of political interference” in the case.
The state disagrees.
In late September, when he was quizzed in parliament about the continued detention of Sikhala and Sithole, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said: “There is no discrimination and there is no selective application of the law.”
When faced with further questions in October, Ziyambi warned interested parties to desist from politicising Sikhala’s matter.
Masarirevu says his client remains in good spirits, and that the success of his beloved Arsenal Football Club, currently top of the English Premier League, brings him some joy.
News of Arsenal’s results comes from some of the prison wardens Sikhala has befriended.
But he worries about his family — he is father to 10 children — and especially his last-born, who is just 10 years old. “Sometimes thoughts of my youngest son affect me. I’m always asking, has he gone to school? Who is picking him up from school? What is he having for lunch?”
He does not know when he will see his family again. “If they want to keep me in here for 20 years, let them do so. I’m physically and mentally prepared.”
This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.
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Publish date : 2022-11-05 13:00:00